Prague is cheap – if you know where to look

By Matthew Earth

Within a few hours of wandering around Prague Brits will be almost shocked to find how low most of the prices are for food and drink.

While the exchange rate is perhaps not the easiest to understand, some quick maths prior to entering a restaurant or bar will reveal just how little it costs to eat and drink out when compared to the UK.

However, as with any tourist destination, there are many traps the local business owners will hope visitors fall into and end up out of pocket.

About a week prior to my flight to the Czech capital I visited my local bureau de change for some Czech korunas. For nearly £205 I received 5,500 korunas, which worked out at a rate of about 26.85 CZK for 1 GBP. Fortunately, the woman who served me made me aware that if I needed more cash while I was out there I could probably get a better exchange rate in Prague than in the UK, as long as I paid in cash. However, she warned me to always compare the buying and selling prices at any Czech exchange bureau before handing over my hard-earned cash.

Upon arrival in Prague I immediately found this to be true. In Muzeum station, which was one of the first stations we visited en route to our accommodation, we could only get 17 CZK for 1 GBP at the exchange office. This is a blatant trap the management of the bureau hope tourists will fall into, and it is easy to see why.

A bureau in central Prague will hope people who are perhaps in a rush, or simply wanting to get on with their holiday, will not spend their time seeking out an office that gives more korunas, thinking they will not be easy to find. To say the bureaux which give poor rates are commonplace is an understatement. They will be located towards the central areas of the city, close to landmarks, hotels and the busier metro stations. They will also have eye-catching decals or posters advertising ‘0% commission’, which is technically true – although the rate they offer you will be meagre.

Obviously, whenever you visit anywhere abroad you hope you have taken enough money to last you. But if and when you do need some more cash, be sure to seek out an office that offers a similar buying and selling rate. It is easy to feel that many people see the selling price is around 28 CZK for 1 GBP before noticing the buying rate is much lower. Towards the end of our first week, I felt my money was running a bit short, so I set out to find an office. I eventually settled on a bureau in a mall by Kino Lucerna, which is just outside of the Old Town. Here I managed to get 28 CZK for a single pound.

It is worth noting that in Prague, like many European cities, cash is king and not many places accept cards as a form of payment. There are many restaurants, bars and cafes slightly outside the main city centre which may not accept your card when you come to pay the bill. Despite the extra travelling distance, everywhere we ate and drank outside the centre had a wide range of delicious Czech food and drink, which were all reasonably priced. This rings especially true for the beers in Prague, of which there are many – it is not uncommon to find a Pilsner Urquell, a Kozel or a Staropramen for 30 korunas (just over £1). For those on a budget, meals with a drink are available for 150 korunas if you’re willing to look around.

It is also worth remembering that when dining out there are some restaurants who will try and charge diners for some extras they may not have particularly wanted. Tipping is almost expected in most restaurants in the city, so it is always best to factor in a ten per cent gratuity after you receive the bill. To most this will not be an issue, but some eateries will try and catch unsuspecting customers out with some almost hidden charges. For example, on our first night a friend ordered schnitzel at a restaurant and was asked if he would like either potatoes or fries with his meal. The waiter made no mention of an extra cost – yet we found we were billed for them at the end. Waiters will also sometimes try and bring you bread baskets to your table. Be warned, as this is usually not complimentary, so it is always best to ask if there is a charge before you accept it.

On the whole, a city break in Prague is going to cost you far less than in other European capitals, such as London, Berlin or Paris. The lower cost may lead you to believe the quality is lower, yet this is simply not the case. Everywhere you go the food is delicious and the drinks go down a treat. It is just a case of knowing where to look and what to avoid.

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